Auburn, Ala.--The youth movement that Auburn started wholesale in week four against New Mexico State was on full display Saturday in an impressive 35-7 victory over the Vanderbilt Commodores as 22 true or redshirt freshmen saw action in the game.
Throw in 11 sophomores, not counting Tray Blackmon and Aairon Savage, who both missed the game due to injury, and Auburn played almost two-deep at every position of underclassmen. Auburn's oldest player, quarterback Brandon Cox, says the amount of young guys making a contribution to this Auburn team has everyone excited and playing with a lot of energy.
"That's pretty amazing," Cox says. "The future is really bright here, but right now they are playing great. They make it fun. They're excited to be out there. It's fun to be out there with them."
At one point in the second quarter on offense, the Tigers had redshirt freshman Mario Fannin in at tailback, true freshmen Tim Hawthorne and Chris Slaughter at wide receiver, and true freshmen Ryan Pugh, Chaz Ramsey and Lee Ziemba on the offensive line, all at the same time.
Not to be outdone, on defense in the fourth quarter the Tigers had a lineup with as many as eight freshmen on the field at the same time against Vanderbilt's first offense. One of those players, linebacker Bo Harris, says it's huge for them to be able to get quality playing time as a group.
"It felt good," Harris says. "We were talking about it before the game about how a lot of us were going to get a lot of playing time. It just so happened we got out there at the same time. We've got a lot of work to do, but I think we did good."
Two players who saw their first action after thinking they were going to redshirt were linebacker Josh Bynes and cornerback Ryan Williams. A Mobile native, Williams says at first he wasn't sure about playing this season but he knows it's his chance to improve his game as well as help the team win games down the road.
"I'm just trying to work my way up the ladder," Williams says. "I know I just came off my redshirt so I have to get back in the swing of doing things. I think I'm progressing a lot. I think I'm going to do good."
A player who has been in the plans all season is Harris. A back up at strongside linebacker, he notes that Bynes is someone that has impressed his this fall because of his ability to pick up the defense and implement it on the field.
"I think we're doing great," Harris says. "Josh Bynes is a genius when it comes to these plays. Myself, I think I still have some work to do. We're coming along and all together I think the freshmen are doing real good. We're making a lot of progress."
This week the Tigers will face a tough physical challenge against the Arkansas Razorbacks. That is especially true on defense as Darren McFadden, Felix Jones and company enter the weekend as the nation's most dangerous running team. Sophomore Antonio Coleman says they will need the freshmen to step up again this week and he thinks they'll get the job done.
"Coach always tells us that you're not young any more after you play one game," Coleman says. "Antoine Carter got out there and played a good game. This up and coming freshman kid Josh Bynes is a great football player. He got out there and really helped us out.
"It was good to get them some experience because they are going to have to play," Coleman adds. "If somebody goes down they are going to have to play. Just like when Q (Quentin Groves) went down I knew I was going to have to play and Carter (Antoine Carter) was going to have to play. We just prepare all week and do what we've got to do."